Winds against the soul of our common weal
Discerning students of British constitutional history or of the political development of that realm are sure to find an un-refreshing parallel or are able to plot the graph of an uncanny verisimilitude between Nigeria’s National Assembly and the parliament in England sacked by inimitable Oliver Cromwell, Puritan and Lord Protector of the Commonwealth (1653-8). Parliamentarians in Cromwell’s time had let down the nation by trivialising the grandeur, dignity or majestic glory of ‘‘the nation under God.’’
Members of Parliament were, for most times, on a frolic of their own even as they threw away every opportunity to deepen democracy or spread welfare. They largely ignored the mood of the nation, engaged in crass indiscipline, and generally elevated their smug indifference to the plight of their fellow countrymen to the level of a directive principle of state policy or as a veritable essence of their membership of the hallowed chambers. They were arrogantly dismissive of the cherished canons of their calling. On 20th April, 1653 supported by about 40 musketeers, Cromwell cleared the chamber and dissolved the parliament by force.
Even though there is wide-spread concern or fear regarding the future of Nigeria’s socio-political and economic architecture, our National Assembly has ignored plaintive pleas or the strident clamours for the restructuring of a warped federal system. Specifically, Nigeria’s National Assembly has in the last week of July, 2017 unsympathetically voted against the bill to alter the 1999 Constitution to devolve more powers to the nation’s constituent units. Members failed or refused to recall their understanding of classical federalism as they exhibited that which is contrary to received opinion regarding that governance ideal. They, on one hand, voted in favour of the retention of the controversial Land Use Act, and on the other, did the absurd by co-terminously voting for “local government autonomy.” They could not recognise the paradox in granting freedom to the local governments to exercise jurisdiction over affairs and events concerning them even as all lands comprised within their territory is vested in some external authority or the governor of a state.
It is important to note that the ordinary people have been aghast or stupefied with horror unable to understand what manner of men or women has been their lot to sit in authority over them. More stupefying is the knowledge that most members of the national assembly who incidentally belong to the ruling party are working against the interest of the professed manifesto or “road map” of their party.
For sure, there is abundant evidence that the Federal Government wields enormous or unnecessarily huge powers of state, exercises a rude control of the nation’s resources, and takes to itself a disproportionately large share of the national revenue. It is therefore strange that members of the APC whose party rose to power on the crest of a crusading restructuring ethic, could exhibit such lack of consensus or expose the geo-political cleavages in the Nigerian polity in the voting pattern regarding the vexed issues of restructuring, federalism, fiscal autonomy, devolution of powers, etc.
A party that parades a national spread in terms of its fangled membership and of a supposed wide-spread acceptance has pathetically failed to achieve national consensus on how to move the nation forward. In voting for or against the issues, politicians have taken positions based on their regional, geographic or private predilections. It is worrisome that their party could not provide a rallying front or platform for arriving at a consensual solution. The opportunity for re-drawing the Nigerian political and social map consistent with the people’s desire for a truly just, peaceful and prosperous society was thereby carelessly lost on the altar of political chicanery.
The people of Nigeria have agonised over a system that willy-nilly promotes corruption, vaingloriously rewards indolence and banally glorifies inefficiency. They have become exasperated concerning the misfortune of a system that has rendered unviable the constituent units of a so-called federation that has reduced such units to a beggarly status and shares revenue based on certain palpable inequities. This, the people have reasoned, cannot be what they bargained for when they crafted a federal constitution for themselves in 1963. That self-same people’s constitution was desecrated when the army struck in1966 and substituted it with a quixotic “federal” arrangement that some have aptly described as “unitary federalism.” This malapropism has been identified as the main cause of Nigeria’s underdevelopment or retrogression. It is responsible for the perennial tension or schisms within.
The cavalier manner with which the legislators in the National Assembly sought to amend the constitution underscores the lack of the understanding of the requirement of the values of rigour, thoroughness and self – application which befit such gargantuan exercise. The cosmetic approach to the requirement to rejig the constitution adopted by the legislators belies the seriousness that underpins their charge and has exposed them to ridicule. A total re-engineering or re-tooling of the constitution and not a mere cosmetic repair should have been the focus of the legislators for this historic assignment. In this writer’s humble opinion, the consideration for the purpose of amendment of a whopping 33 items in the 1999 Constitution is beyond the ken of the National Assembly because the exercise amounts to a wholesale reworking of the grundnorm.
The exercise, ab initio lacks legitimacy. As sovereignty resides in the people particularly when it comes to tinkering with the constitution, it was required that the legislators return to their constituencies to receive legitimation or approval concerning their quest to amend certain important provisions of the constitution. An inebriated business club of 469 self-serving moguls, by whatever name called, cannot take the place of the people’s moral high ground, of their sole right to determine the rules of their co-existence, or of their inherent power to cancel, abrogate or ignore decisions which are a dis-service to or derogation from the terms of their social contract. The attempt of the National Assembly to take over the role of the people, in this instance, its illegitimate arrogation to itself of a constitutional amendment exercise that is wholesale or that is co-existence with its members huge ego is grubby, untidy, immoral or sincere. It should not be allowed to stand.
It is extremely difficult to sift the grain from the chaff of the inelegant attempt to hoodwink the people this time around. The entire package regarding this constitution amendment exercise is rife with in-elegancies, illegitimacy, inanities or in adroitness. The Nigerian people owe themselves and fellow Africans who look up to them for leadership, the requirement to resolve to reject the shenanigans contained in the attempt to pull the wool over their eyes which their representatives have deceptively clothed in seeming high-minded statesmanship. The people should resolve that the amendments, whatever they are, have been done in vain and therefore go to no issue.
Several insightful accounts exist as the records of the revolutionary incident of the sacking of Parliament by Cromwell. We conclude with a paraphrased account of his acerbic denunciation of an assembly of men who have missed their calling: “…..you are no parliament, I will put an end to your sitting.” Or his diatribe, “you have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately…. In the name of God, go!”
• Rotimi-John is a lawyer and commentator on public affairs.
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